I just finished reading a fantastic book called Perfect Practice by Doug Lemov. My last post discussed pieces of advice that are applicable to players. If you missed it, you can check it out here.
This post is all about actionable advice for coaches.
Follow feedback with action.
When teaching a drill and giving feedback for players, don’t just tell them what to do, have them actually do it. Often, coaches will finish a drill and give 2-3 pieces of feedback about the drill before moving on to the next one. “Good work on the closeouts today guys, but we need to do a better job communicating on defense and being in help side position early.” Those two pieces of feedback are unlikely to stick because it isn’t being applied right away.
The same mistake is often made when watching film. The feedback given during film study will be put to much better use if it can be applied right away. As much as possible, try to implement that feedback in practice immediately afterward.
Be strategic about your feedback.
Especially when dealing with less experienced players, it can be tempting to correct every mistake you see. “Johnny, get in a stance, keep with your eyes up, don't dribble with the palm of your hand!” The problem with this is that it’s impossible to learn when too much information is being given. It’s like trying to drink from a firehose.
Coaches are tempted to do this because their ego gets in the way. The more you correct, the more you appear to know. You have to decide whether you want to be an impressive coach or an effective coach. Effective coaches limit the feedback they give to specific areas.
Lemov recommends choosing two areas to focus on and giving 90% of feedback on those two areas. In doing so, players can better absorb the information and they get a clear message about what’s important. This focused feedback also has an additional benefit for coaches. It requires them to be intentional about their feedback and focus on the most important things. If you could only choose 2 things to focus on for each player, what would they be?
Check for understanding.
Players tune out all the time. After explaining something, it’s important to make sure they heard and understood what you said. But the goal isn’t to catch them if they zone out. The purpose is to lock in the information so they'll remember it. There are a few specific ways you can help them better retain the information you’ve taught.
1) Ask the player to summarize the feedback
2) Ask the player to prioritize the most important parts of feedback. For example, after a pick and roll defense drill, you could ask “what’s the most important concept for the on-ball defender when defending the pick and roll?"
3) Ask the player to identify how they’ll implement the feedback. For example, after explaining the value of getting game-like shots in training sessions, you could ask “how are you going to adjust your individual workouts now?
Differentiate between drill and scrimmage.
The purpose of drills is skill development. When aiming to improve a certain skill, it’s crucial that when someone makes a mistake they are corrected immediately. This means that drills will be momentarily halted and corrections made. Coaches should both make corrections during and after the drill.
The purpose of scrimmages is final preparation and evaluation. It’s one thing to have players make great rotations in a shell drill, it’s another to be able to do it in a live game. Scrimmages replicate the added difficulty and complexity of a game and are a better test for whether a player has learned a skill. “Success in scrimmage is the best indicator of true mastery—participants can perform a skill when the time and place of its application is unpredictable.” -Doug Lemov
For this reason, it’s important that coaches don’t interrupt scrimmages. Let the flow of play go on as if it were a live game. See how players react to mistakes and how capable they are of stringing different skills together. For example, rotating on help side, then boxing out, then running the lane in transition with proper spacing. All of those skills have been practiced, but now it’s time to see if they can be executed together and in a chaotic environment.
Be intentional about whether you’re doing a drill or a scrimmage and coach accordingly.
"When you punish your people for making a mistake or falling short of a goal, you create an environment of extreme caution, even fearfulness. In sports it’s similar to playing “not to lose”—a formula that often brings on defeat." – John Wooden
Excellence doesn’t come from not making mistakes, it comes from making many mistakes and learning from them. But if players are afraid that a coach will come down hard on them for making a mistake, they’ll be afraid to play outside their comfort zone—the place where growth occurs. This is why it’s crucial that coaches create an environment where it is ok to make mistakes.
Here are some tips for normalizing error.
First, challenge your players. Give them difficult targets or drills where they are likely to make mistakes.
Second, respond to those errors by supporting players in how to improve. You don’t have to downplay or ignore mistakes, just support them in fixing them.
A natural instinct that many people have is to address an error apologetically. I’ve often found myself saying “Don’t worry about it, that’s ok, you did your best.” This approach is actually counterproductive to the goal of normalizing error. It communicates that errors are something that should be apologized for and thus, avoided. When, in fact, that’s the opposite of the message we should be sending. As Lemov puts it, be sure to “get past nice” when addressing mistakes.
I highly recommend that coaches pick up a copy of Doug Lemov's Practice Perfect. It's chock full of practical pieces of advice that can help you improve as a coach.